Episode 84: Behind the Tower: New Histories of the UT Tower Shooting

Fifty years ago, on August 1, 1966, twenty-five year old student Charles Whitman killed 16 people and wounded at least 32 more at UT Austin.  A former Marine sharpshooter, he went to the 28th-floor observation deck of the UT Tower and began shooting people on the ground as they walked by or tried to hide. A news cameraman set up a camera under the tower so the shooting was broadcast on television. Several police officers and a recently retired Air Force officer made their way to the top of the tower not knowing what they would find and, after the rampage had lasted 96 minutes, Houston McCoy and Ramiro Martinez killed the sniper. Later it was found that Whitman had killed his mother and wife in the early hours of the morning.

These events were seared into the memory of everyone living in Austin, but historians have neglected the story and, for decades, the university avoided and eventually suppressed it. A small plaque on a hard to locate rock was only erected in 2008. Why?

In Spring 2016, as the fiftieth anniversary neared, graduate students in the UT History Department’s Public History seminar led by Joan Neuberger decided to make the history of the tower shooting more widely available and accessible to the public. They examined documents in local archives and wrote a collection of historical essays on many important aspects of that day’s events, as well as on the historical context, and the aftermath. And they put these essays on a website. In this episode, Neuberger discusses the project with four of those students: Itza Carbajal, Maria Hammack, Rebecca Johnston, and John Lisle.

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Introducing 15 Minute History

Welcome to 15 Minute History!

15 Minute History is a podcast—with supplementary materials—about World and US history.  This is a joint project of Hemispheres, the international outreach consortium at the University of Texas at Austin, and Not Even Past, a website with articles on a wide variety of historical issues, produced by the History Department at the University of Texas at Austin.

This podcast series is devoted to short, accessible discussions of important topics in World History and US History. The discussions will be conducted by the award winning faculty and graduate students at the University of Texas at Austin.

Our topics will be drawn from the new World History and US History Standards—The Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS)—for K-12 social studies courses in Texas, and will be tied to specific objective and goals set in the standards to help educators prepare their students for the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness, or STAAR™ exams. They are meant to be a resource for both teachers and students.

But the podcasts can be enjoyed by anyone with an interest in History. Each podcast will be accompanied by documents and readings related to the topic for people who want to learn more about the topic.

Our podcasts will be available through the Hemispheres and Not Even Past websites, where listeners and readers can find links to more information about World and US History and Cultures and the resources that we’ve developed.